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“My Culture Is Not A Costume”

Autumn is in full swing, and the summer is but a distant memory. The temperature has dropped to scarf-and-toque (beanie?) degrees, rainy weather means maneuvering a sea of pokey umbrellas, and the campus leaves have painted the entire UBC landscape into a beautiful yellow-orange-red-green scene.

This time of year also marks the beginning of a common inquiry, “So what are you going to be for Halloween?

At UBC, the creative possibilities are boundless! There is an array of responses this question may elicit, ranging from scientific theories…

… to cosplay…

… to the classics.

Amidst all of the hilarious, artistic, and unsual costumes, there are almost always a few that make some people wonder, “Is that appropriate?

This idea of the questionable costume was addressed by a group of students at Ohio University through a poster campaign titled “My Culture Is Not A Costume.” The student group that started this campaign is called S.T.A.R.SStudents Teaching About Racism in Society – and their message with the poster campaign is clear: It is not okay to use someone’s racial, ethnic, or cultural identity as a costume.

For example, I am sure that most of us have seen some version of the following costumes over the years:

These costumes may appear harmless to some and be justified as “a celebration of another culture”, but what these kinds of costumes do is offer a caricature of an entire racial, cultural, or ethnic group. In other words, they perpetuate stereotypes, and these stereotypes are most often negative (I should note that a positive stereotype being used as a Halloween costume is not appropriate, either). Reappropriating aspects of a culture in the name of entertaining Halloween costumes strips all meaning from the attire, and implies that somehow that culture (or ethnicity or race) is something that you are entitled to mock for your own enjoyment. If it isn not already clear – no one is entitled to this.

Posters from the S.T.A.R.S. campaign state: “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life.”

Stigma (n.): A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

Don’t be a part of the degradation of someone’s identity this Halloween. Help everyone feel respected, instead.


Katie (she/her) has a Graduate Diploma in Business from Queen's University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice Minor from the University of British Columbia. She is a former Campus Correspondent of HC at UBC and is passionate about people and their wellbeing, photography, and food.
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